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Timothy Sandefur, Principal Attorney
Pacific Legal Foundation
(916) 419-7111


PLF statement on Supreme Court’s Health Care ruling

Sacramento, CA; June 28, 2012:  The U.S. Supreme Court this morning upheld the individual mandate and other provisions of the Affordable Care Act, declaring that the mandate is permissible as a form of taxation.  However, a majority of the court also specifically recognized that the mandate violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause — a holding that is consistent with arguments submitted by Pacific Legal Foundation, along with other constitutionally based critics of the law.

PLF has been the nation’s most active public interest organization in litigation over the health care law, filing briefs in cases in Arizona, Florida, Virginia, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., as well as at the U.S. Supreme Court.  PLF attorneys also represent Iowa small business owner Matt Sissel, in a direct challenge to the law.

Timothy Sandefur, Principal Attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, issued this statement responding to today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the federal health care law:

“The Obama administration won a battle today, but it lost a war that its lawyers had been waging against bedrock principles of limited government.  Yes, the administration’s mandates were upheld under a technical analysis of tax law.  But the court refused to stretch the Commerce Clause — federal power to regulate people’s activity — to cover this scheme of forcing people to buy health insurance.

“The administration was in essence arguing that the Commerce Clause sets no limits on federal regulatory power.  If the justices had bought that claim, it would have been code red for our constitutional heritage of federalism, limited government, and individual rights.  Instead, we have a decision that rejects unlimited federal regulatory power, even while it allows the feds to impose a health-related tax.”

Congress doesn’t have unlimited regulatory power

“The question of whether the power to ‘regulate commerce’ includes the power to force you to buy a product or service is an extremely important matter,” said Sandefur.  “If Congress had such power, it would indeed be the case that the federal government could force people to buy products or services that politicians think they ought to have.  However, Chief Justice John Roberts, in his separate opinion, declares the mandate unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause — a point on which the four dissenters agree.  So it is therefore the majority opinion of the court that the mandate violates the Commerce Clause.

“The court does, however, find that the mandate ‘merely imposes a tax citizens may lawfully choose to pay in lieu of buying health insurance.’  But this does not mean that Congress has limitless power under the Taxing Clause, the justices say, because a tax that is too ‘penalizing’ will ‘lose [ ] its character as [a tax] and become [ ] a mere penalty with the characteristics of regulation and punishment.’”

The health care law is heavy-handed and dubious as a matter of policy.  But by analyzing it as a tax, the Court has refused to allow it to deliver a poison pill to our constitutional framework.  A majority of the justices have rejected claims about regulatory power that would have put Commerce Clause principles of limited government on life support.

Further PLF analysis of the ruling will be available at PLF’s website: www.pacificlegal.org/healthcare.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (
www.pacificlegal.org) is the nation’s leading legal watchdog organization litigating for limited government, private property rights and free enterprise.


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